Emmett Clifford and Aidan Walsh aren’t two players who were expected to play big roles for Loyola this season.
Clifford is the backup quarterback to DJ Melsheimer. Walsh is the third-string quarterback and the team’s holder on extra points and field goals.
Yet, both Clifford and Walsh were instrumental in the Ramblers’ 29-28 overtime win over Edwardsville on Saturday, a game No. 1-ranked Loyola trailed 21-0 at the half.
Following Melsheimer’s sixth interception of the game on the first series of the third quarter, Clifford came in and led Loyola (2-0) to three second-half touchdowns, including his own six-yard run with 3 minutes, 35 seconds to go in the fourth quarter that tied the game at 21-21.
Clifford then answered Edwardsville’s first score in overtime with his five-yard TD pass to Owen Buscaglia on fourth-and-five. Loyola coach John Holecek opted to run a fake on the point after, and Walsh rolled to his right before hitting wide open Brian O’Brien for the win.
“All I’m thinking is get him the ball,” Walsh said. “I didn’t think I would get a chance like this.”
As second in succession to the starter, Clifford said he’s always prepared to play. He sure looked that way, too, by completing both of his passes on a six-play scoring drive on his first series.
Clifford finished 8-for-14 for 113 yards with one touchdown and one interception, the team’s seventh of the game. Buscaglia caught eight passes for 132 yards.
“I don’t get many reps in practice, but I make sure to stay in it mentally,” said Clifford, who started all nine games on the sophomore team a year ago. “They count on me to be ready.”
Loyola, the top-ranked team in the AP’s Class 8A poll, needed someone to step up on offense after five interceptions and six total turnovers. Even with all the mistakes against the Tigers, who are tied for third in the AP’s Class 8A poll and now 1-1, the Ramblers only were down 21-0.
“It was the worst half of football we’ve ever played,” Holecek said. “Our offense was pretty bad, but our defense kept us in the game.”
Holecek said the Ramblers had to “hit the reset button” after the team’s sixth interception and seventh turnover early in the third quarter, and he tapped Clifford to replace Melsheimer.
It was the correct call as Clifford directed the Ramblers to touchdowns on three of his first four drives before throwing his only touchdown in overtime.
“I knew we would continue to fight, and it paid off in the end,” Walsh said.